Crime & Justice

Federal court blocks LAPD's gang injunctions

A portion of a map showing the LAPD's Central Bureau gang injunctions.
A portion of a map showing the LAPD's Central Bureau gang injunctions.

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The Los Angeles Police Department has been ordered by a federal court to stop enforcing nearly all of its remaining gang injunctions, affecting approximately 1,500 young people — mostly black and Latino.

The preliminary injunction was granted to the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues injunctions "do not provide sufficient due process" to non-gang members to challenge allegations against them.

The ACLU declared victory following the ruling:

ACLU tweet

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that the American Civil Liberties Union is likely to prove that most of those subject to the remaining injunctions suffered a due process violation. The judge found the city did not give them an opportunity to challenge the civil restraining orders in court.

The injunctions were born in the 1980s and '90s when gang activity in the city gained national attention.

The use of injunctions has been under increasing scrutiny since 2016, when the ACLU and the Los Angeles Youth Justice Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city.

Professor George Tita, a criminologist at UC Irvine, said the first injunctions dealt with gang members selling drugs on the streets and frequently carrying out drive-by shootings. Those injunctions "were probably more effective because in a sense you were picking the low hanging fruit," he said.

In recent years, most of the drug-selling activity has moved indoors and there has been a big drop in gang-on-gang violence, said Tita.

He does not believe that injunctions led to more police abuses of authority. 

"I think there are enough instances where police have trodded upon civil liberties - I don't think they need the injunction as an excuse to do that," Tita said.

Professor Jeff Grogger, who teaches public policy at the University of Chicago, studied the effect of injunctions in L.A., and he found a 5 to 10 percent drop in violent assaults in areas where injunctions were imposed, a decrease that he considers "pretty significant."

In an area with an injunction that had been experiencing 20 to 30 violent crimes every three months, "you'd get a reduction of say, two to three of those violent crimes per quarter," he said. "So two or three fewer people getting beaten badly enough to go to the hospital, two or three fewer people dealing with the aftermath of a violent assault."

Some critics have argued that injunctions merely displace crime to other areas, but Grogger rejects that notion, since gangs are territorial about which streets they operate on.

"If you enjoin these guys from gangbanging in the 40s, it's not as if they can just go to the 50s and do their gangbanging there because there is another gang that claims the 50s," he said.

See the LAPD's gang injunctions here:

Read the full court order here:

This story has been updated.